Trump is an opportunistic infection

For decades, the GOP has been killing off its demagogue-detecting and bullshit-rejecting antibodies. Now it’s helpless.

As Donald Trump moves ever closer to their party’s nomination for president, many Republicans are trying to understand or explain what has happened. Various metaphors have been thrown around: It’s a “hostile takeover“, or a “class war“, or a “populist uprising“.

Here’s a more accurate comparison: Trump is like the opportunistic infections that attack people whose immune systems have been compromised. A healthy political party could have thrown off Trump’s candidacy with barely a sniffle, but today’s GOP is in grave danger.

Over the last few decades, the Republican Party has been systematically destroying all the habits and mores and traditions and standards that keep a political party stable and allow it to play a constructive role in governing a great republic like the United States. Those things function like antibodies: They may be invisible to the naked eye, but they head off outbreaks of all sorts of destructive nonsense.

Now they’re gone, and Donald Trump is running wild.

How did this happen? For years now, the Republican Party has increasingly been winning elections (at every level short of the presidency) by misinforming voters and appealing to their darker passions. It has pandered to believers in baseless theories like Birtherism and the gun-confiscation conspiracy, while ridiculing the scientific community’s warnings about climate change. It has claimed that racism is a thing of the past — “things have changed dramatically” John Roberts claimed while striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act — and that the only real bigotry today is “political correctness” and discrimination against whites and Christians.

Rather than change its own plutocratic policies, the GOP has scapegoated undocumented immigrants for working-class impoverishment. (If you’ve been losing at poker and wonder if someone’s been cheating you, don’t accuse the Mexican who’s been sweeping the floor. Look at the guy with all the chips.) It has pushed self-serving economic fantasies like “tax cuts pay for themselves” and biological fantasies like the female body “shutting down” to make pregnancy-by-rape impossible. It has looked the other way while hucksters and con-men fleeced its faithful. It has struck down any traditional notions of fair play; beating Obama has been the important thing, and only wimps appeal to gentlemanly traditions and rules of decorum. (If it’s OK to yell “You lie!” during the State of the Union, what’s wrong with endorsing a shout-out that Ted Cruz is a pussy?)

In short, the GOP has devolved from the Party of Lincoln — or more recently the Party of Eisenhower — to  the Party of Truthiness. (Truthiness, coined by Stephen Colbert, is the seductive notion that what your gut wants to believe must be true, independent of any facts or science or expert opinion.) The result is that the party’s base has no immune system that would reject a candidate like Trump.

All the weapons another candidate might use to take Trump down have been systematically dismantled. Are his “facts” wrong? Mitt Romney already burned that bridge in 2012. Do experts say his proposals are nonsense? There are no experts any more; if you feel a need for expert support, go invent your own experts like the Koch brothers and right-wing Christians do. Are his speeches full of racist dog-whistles? Politically correct nonsense! Racism ended in the 60s, except reverse-racism against whites. And if Republicans had to expel anybody who dog-whistled about Obama, there’d be no party left. Are there echoes of fascism in his giant rallies and cult of personality? In his celebration of real and imaginary violence against hecklers? In his fear-mongering about unpopular ethnic or religious groups? In his implication that specific policies are unnecessary, because all will follow from installing a Leader with sufficient Will? More nonsense: There is no fascism any more, unless you mean liberal fascism or Islamofascism.

With all the legitimate arguments of political discourse unavailable, other candidates were left to fight each other and wait for Trump to go away. And when Marco Rubio recently decided he finally had to take Trump on, the only weapon at hand was to tease him like a third-grader, suggesting that he wet his pants during a debate.

While many “establishment” Republicans fruitlessly look for a miracle drug to cure Trump fever without also taking down Cruz, Rubio, and half their Senate candidates, others are beginning to surrender. It’s just one election; maybe it won’t be so bad.

But this is where the compromised-immune-system analogy has something to teach: People whose immune systems have been crippled by AIDS or chemo-therapy seldom catch just one disease. Even if some massive dose of political antibiotics could flush Trump out of the Republican system, the underlying problem is still there: The Republican base cannot detect and reject hucksters. It cannot tell fact from fantasy. It values posturing and bombast over the skills necessary to govern a republic. It seeks scapegoats rather than solutions. It winks and nods at racism and white entitlement.

As long as that remains true, new Trumps will arise in 2020 and 2024, and any qualified Republican candidate offering real solutions will be defenseless against them. The Republican Party doesn’t just need to find a way to deal with Donald Trump. It needs rebuild its immune system.

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  • Dave Lance  On February 29, 2016 at 8:45 am

    A pro-Trump argument, and a “Breaking Bad” spoiler:

    _ _ _

    Walter White turns fifty.
    Extremely gifted chemist.
    Family guy. Baby on the way.
    High school chemistry teacher.
    Diagnosed with inoperable
    Lung cancer.
    His brother-in-law, the DEA
    Agent, derides Walt’s masculinity
    And invites him to ride along
    To a meth lab bust.

    “Can I go inside and see the lab?”

    Walt gets an idea…

    By the end of the fifth season, he has
    Amassed a fortune of unlaundered
    Hundred dollar bills that fill 9 fifty
    Gallon drums. $90,000,000.

    He has escalated from small time hood
    To the cook of the best methamphetamine
    In the South West U.S. and Eastern Europe.

    He also has crossed paths with,
    And shaken hands with… Nazis.

    Isn’t that always the way? When you
    Flirt with evil, as has the GOP, sooner
    Or later you invite in real evil.

    Or at least fail to disavow it.

    Well, now to the spoiler of the last fifteen
    Minutes of the last episode…

    Walt kills all of the Nazis.

    And dies by a piece of shrapnel
    From the attack.

    So maybe there is an argument
    In support of a vote for Trump.

    _ _ _

    • Anonymous  On February 29, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Doug –
      what a brilliant piece. And, hopeful. You write in English. You write with clarity, and maybe some Republicans will be able to read and understand.
      I don’t want them all dead and buried, rather I want them to participate in the government of my country. Thanks for another wonderful week.
      Best wishes
      David Mills, Danvers Massachusetts

  • Bill Camarda  On February 29, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Great piece. Of course, in order for the Republican Party to rebuild its immune system (like the old joke about psychologists and light bulbs) *it has to want to change.*

    Since ethics and human decency clearly haven’t worked, their incentives will have to change radically — far more radically than losing in 2008 and 2012 accomplished.

    It’s hard to see that happening at the moment, except through demographic change and the “new, rising America” coming out to vote en masse, everywhere. Trump might generate *some* of that turnout, but early comparisons of Republican and Democratic primary turnout are deeply concerning.

    An even bigger question: when it comes to the Republican party, if I say “it has to want to change,” who is “it”? 2016 is showing, if nothing else, that there are no adults capable of leading the Republican Party. It turns out, shockingly, that (outside Rush Limbaugh et al), the party’s only leader is indeed Trump. And he is very well positioned to drive out the party’s few remaining Christie Whitmans and reshape the GOP in his image, just as Mussolini (or possibly Andrew Jackson) did.

  • Bill Camarda  On February 29, 2016 at 9:21 am

    I’m curious: Are there historical examples of a large swath of a society adopting the characteristics you’ve described and then returning to pluralistic reason without first suffering absolutely catastrophic destruction?

    The only examples I can think of — post-World War II Germany, post “30 Years War” 17th century Europe, post-civil-war America if limited to the confraternity of white people — are not comforting me much.

    • weeklysift  On February 29, 2016 at 10:11 am

      That’s an excellent question. I’ll have to do some research. There are examples of political parties learning lessons after being disciplined by the electorate, and there are also examples of parties crashing without taking down the country (the Whigs). But whether large chunks of voters can be re-educated is a tougher question.

      • Gurukarm Kaur Khalsa (@karma_musings)  On February 29, 2016 at 3:39 pm

        The problem with “large chunks of voters [being] re-educated” is how many people *don’t* vote, don’t think it’s worth their time or attention, or don’t think their votes count. Leaving the *un-educated* at the polls going along with Trump, or others of his ilk both now in local elections and in the future.

  • cgordon  On February 29, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Republicans, both the Rush Limbaugh side and the Bill Kristol side, have been systematically undermining and delegitimizing government itself since Reagan left office – the exception being using government to enforce abortion restrictions. When your objective is not good government but rather no government, something emerges to fill the vacuum, I guess.

  • Tom Hutchinson  On February 29, 2016 at 10:31 am

    I’ve been thinking of this within the the context of most of these subjects.

  • Greg Branch  On February 29, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Great analogy…I’ll be using it tirelessly (but giving you credit). I’ve promised myself that if Trump wins the primary, I will be donating all my extra time to making sure he is not my president.

    • Anonymous  On February 29, 2016 at 12:05 pm

      Me, too. I’m thinking of using my vacation time for campaigning…

    • jh  On February 29, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      Perhaps a better use of resources is to campaign against republican senators and congresspeople and other republicans running in races? The president isn’t god. I shudder to see the nonsense that passes for politics in Washington DC… It looks more like a bunch of republican toddlers throwing temper tantrums and democrats looking on with a “I have no idea how to stop the toddler from being a a brat”.

      • Anonymous  On February 29, 2016 at 10:47 pm

        Campaigning for senators or congresspeople would also be good. As would working for campaign finance reform (which is the lynchpin for solving many of our various problems). But I also think that Trump as president would be a disaster. It would be like putting the toddler in charge… Would not be pretty…

      • Allison  On March 1, 2016 at 7:20 am

        Getting out the vote among likely democratic voters accomplishes both goals.

  • busterggi  On February 29, 2016 at 11:47 am

    “In short, the GOP has devolved from the Party of Lincoln”

    Into the Party of George Lincoln Rockwell.

  • waltinseattle  On February 29, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Oh, the patient wants to get better, all right. In Ikes day it threw off the infection. People remembered Hitler and War. Today? “not so much”

    as far as the seeming assumption that its only the would be Chancellor whats troubling them, I got a great laugh from the roast speech.
    all in roast of course. thats how the grio and court jester keep their heads, dont you remember?

  • coastcontact  On February 29, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Your view is distorted because you are clearly a liberal Democrat. The Democratic Party has had a consistent set of positions for decades. Number one has been “It’s the economy stupid.” The GOP has not held a consistent set of positions. I always thought of the GOP as the party of business and protecting business from over reaching government. That is no longer their primary focus. No one knows what the primary focus is today. Is their primary objective to protect religious rights, protect American jobs, sustain White supremacy (block non-white immigration), or what? Donald Trump tries to address all of the above and lots of people believe those are all the right objectives. Thus he is marching to the nomination.

  • sglover  On February 29, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Other than the presidency, Dems have lost governorships, statehouses, and congressional seats pretty consistently since 2000. I think this actually accelerated over Obama’s term. Another way to put it is, when it comes to government as a day-to-day, tangible management exercise, Dems are a shrinking presence. And it’s the **Republican** Party that’s on the ropes?!?!

  • justinfrank442  On February 29, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    This is a great – even brilliant post, rife with details that support your opportunistic infection idea/metaphors.

    I am a psychoanalyst (wrote Bush in the Couch and Obama OTC), and write a brief blog about the same thing from my psychoanalyst’s perch last July.

    I thought you’d be interested – and have already sent your article to friends and followers. It’s really great and I only wish you could get it to the MSM.

    Anyway, here is my now-dated take (after he slammed McCain)

    Let me know your thoughts.

    Justin Frank

    Sent from my iPhone


  • Jacquie Mardell (@jacquiemardell)  On February 29, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Can’t leave out the role of the media in all this, both in reporting and leaving unchallenged all these silly notions that you describe (gun confiscation, racism is over, all your uteruses are belong to us, etc.) and in shamelessly giving Trump free air time by covering his rallies wall to wall and interviewing him every day. Not just Fox but all the others too. I once made a promise to myself to change the channel whenever I see or hear him. Doesn’t leave much to watch.

  • Chris  On March 1, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    What a telling analogy! And what is their AIDS, their actual immune-compromising disease? I’d say it’s Fox News. (And the rest of the reality-mockers that have dominated the airwaves for the last couple of decades, such as Rush.)

    So the Republican party has contracted Fox News, and Trump is just Kaposi’s sarcoma taking advantage… so even if they survive Trump, until they can cure their fundamental Fox News problem, they’ll still be susceptible to a dozen other infectious candidates.

    It’s almost beautiful, though scary. But only a minority of Americans pay attention to Fox, so I’m hopeful that as a whole, America’s immune system is still relatively intact, so even if Trump wins the nomination, he’ll be trounced in the general election, whether his opponent is Hillary or Bernie. An awful lot of people just couldn’t stomach the Donald as President, whether it’s for fear of what he’d do to immigrants or with the nuclear red button, or just a personal distaste.

  • Abby Hafer  On March 1, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    Regarding dog whistles. The primary difference between Trump and the other GOP candidates boils down to this: Trump will say out loud what the other GOP candidates say only with dog whistles.


  • By Decisive Races | The Weekly Sift on February 29, 2016 at 11:43 am

    […] week’s featured post is “Trump is an opportunistic infection“. If you happen to be near Billerica, Massachusetts this Sunday morning at 11, I’ll be […]

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  • By The Monday Morning Teaser | The Weekly Sift on March 28, 2016 at 7:51 am

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  • […] for what they were doing with Trump, my explanation (in February) was that Trump was an “opportunistic infection” Republicans had left themselves open […]

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